Constructive disagreement is essential. However, sometimes followers must disagree with leaders. Accordingly, many political revolutions started because of follower disagreements (Gebil, 1990). In today’s global economy, it is crucial that followers constructively disagree, occasionally, with the leaders, to ensure the business stays on track. Therefore, to maintain a constant flow of reciprocity in the leader-follower exchange (LMX), managers and leaders must have a balanced dialogue with followers (Loignon, Gooty, Rogelberg, & Lucianetti, 2019). Additionally, followers must challenge the leader (constructively) if common goals or team integrity is compromised (Northouse, 2019, pg. 299). Furthermore, great examples are found in learning about guide dogs that disobeyed to save the owner’s lives. In situations like these, the follower must be prepared to stand up for the right no matter the personal cost (Chaleff, 2015, pg. 60).
A great Biblical example of constructive disagreement was the Apostle Paul and Peter disagreeing over the continuation of circumcision. Before the Jerusalem conference, Peter taught the requirement of circumcision as part of the entrance into the Church (Galatians 2:3-8, King James Version). Later, at a meeting in Jerusalem, Paul confronted Peter and “withstood him to the face” (Galatians 2:11) in defense of ending the circumcision requirement. Additionally, Paul charged Peter with hypocrisy because Peter lived as the Gentiles, but required the Gentiles to live as the Jews (Galatians 2:14).
After much prayer and healthy debate, the apostles acknowledged Christ superseded the Law of Moses (Acts 15:20-22). Subsequently, they ended the practice by apostolic decree (Acts 15:22-29), thus opening the door for Christianity to more easily spread among the Gentiles. In addition, it is important to note that this disagreement was not a challenge of authority and Peter did not lose any power by agreeing with Paul. In light of this example, followers must disagree with leaders when issues of moral importance are at hand.
How to Foster Constructive Disagreement Culture in Your Organization
Leaders must foster a culture where disagreement is not only allowed but encouraged. Fostering this culture is critical if we want independent thinking and responsible citizenship. So, how can we foster a culture of intelligent disagreement?
- We can encourage questions about how and why we do things. We can do this by asking questions such as, “Why do you think I am asking you to do this?” and “What is another way we could do this?”
- Learn stories about trained guide dogs. You may even invite guide dog trainers to your office to demonstrate this ability. These demonstrations can be powerful and memorable learning situations.
- Demonstrate proper posture and voice tone for constructive disagreements, emphasizing using fewer emotions and more logic. – Reminding those you are instructing they are always responsible for the choices they make and the outcomes of those choices.
In conclusion, leaders must recognize the importance of constructive disagreement. History is full of stories where disagreement brought about significant change. Leaders must foster a culture where employees are encouraged to voice questions and constructively disagree, to ensure the business stays on track and continually improves.
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Chaleff, I. (2015). Intelligent Disobedience. New York: MJF Books.
Gebil, A. (1990). Causes of Political Revolution. Charleston: Eastern Illinois University.
Loignon, A. C., Gooty, J., Rogelberg, S. G., & Lucianetti, L. (2019). Disagreement in leader–follower dyadic exchanges: Shared relationship satisfaction and investment as antecedents. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 618–644.
Northouse, P. G. (2019). Leadership: Theory and Practice (8 ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.